The Fascinating History of the “Mexican Hat Dance”

When is the last time you heard the Jarabe Tapatío? That name might sound unfamiliar to you, but when the trumpets start playing the familiar notes you’ll realize you’ve known this tune since you were a child.

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The Jarabe Tapatío, or “Mexican Hat Dance”, is actually a highly choreographed dance that originated in the late 18th century. If you watch the dance closely, you’ll notice that it is actually a story about courtship. A young man makes an advance on a young woman, and she rejects it. He continues to woo her, and eventually she accepts his advances. Due to the significance of the dance, it was originally danced between girls in order to avoid indecency and punishment by the church.

It wasn’t until the last decade of the 18th century that couples began dancing the Jarabe Tapatío publicly, but shortly after that the authorities banned the dance for being both morally offensive and a “challenge” to Spain’s control over their territory. It was in that setting that the Jarabe Tapatío became a popular form of protest and rebellion for the Mexican people over the colonial control of Spain.

Even after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the dance remained very popular, and was featured prominently in the many festive celebrations around the country, especially in Guadalajara. While there were many varied regional versions of the dance, the Jarabe Tapatío danced in Guadalajara became the national standard when it became popular with the elite citizens of Mexico City, and its popularity surged even further when a standard melody was created to accompany the dance.

While the Jarabe Tapatío had gained immense popularity nationally, it wasn’t until 1919 that it gained international fame through the artistry of world-renowned Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. During her tour in Mexico, she added her own interpretation of the dance into her routine in which she wears the colorful china poblana outfit that is associated with the Jarabe Tapatío.

It’s pretty incredible to see the long history of this dance and the sticking power it has had on Mexican culture. Over 200 years later, the same dance is used in popular culture around the world and is still taught to school children in Mexican schools today. So the next time you hear the tune, you can marvel over the fascinating moral, political and cultural history of the “Mexican Hat Dance”.

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